Two men testified Thursday in 4th District Court that the woman charged for the 2001 murder of Mina Pajela could be the same person they saw three years ago quickly leaving the scene where the victim's body was found.
On the first day of the preliminary hearing in the murder case of Kerri Fae Brown, 42, of Arizona, Lee Kalkbrenner and Rick Nay said they were not positive, however, that the woman they saw leaving the white Honda Accord with Mina Pajela's body was Brown.
"Could the defendant be the person you sawfi" prosecutor Sherry Ragan asked Kalkbrenner.
"Yes," he replied.
Kalkbrenner and Nay were among more than a dozen witnesses the prosecution called Thursday to show probable cause to try Brown for the murder charge. The witnesses gave testimony and the state presented evidence linking Brown to a motive and to the parking lot where Pajela's body was found.
Pajela's body was found in the Accord in the parking lot of the Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge in Pleasant Grove with a single gunshot wound in her head.
The prosecution is expected to call its final witnesses -- including expert witnesses from the state crime lab and the state Medical Examiner's Office -- to the stand today.
Kalkbrenner and Nay said they were leaving the Eagles lodge when they saw a woman at the car.
"We drove by the car and noticed there was something in the gas tank on fire," Kalkbrenner said. Nay called 911 while Kalkbrenner pulled a rag out of the gas tank and shut the door.
The woman, Kalkbrenner said, was gone in a hurry. The woman was wearing sweat or jogging suit, the men testified. Nay said the woman had dark hair.
Nay said he thinks he saw the woman again when a witness came into the Pleasant Grove police station, though he can't be positive. She looked a lot like the woman in the picture he had just picked out of a photo lineup, he said.
"It was a different feeling I've never experienced before," Nay said.
But on cross-examination by defense attorney Richard Gale, Nay testified that there were no lights above the car and that the closest lights to the car were about 100 feet away from the vehicle. Nay said there was probably also a smaller light on the Eagles lodge.
Cell phone records presented in court Thursday place Brown close to that parking lot around the time Pajela's body was discovered.
As to a motive for the murder, Ryan Bryant, a former agent with the Utah State Bureau of Investigation, testified Thursday that checks that appeared to be going to pay company bills were actually going to Brown and her sister.
The state alleges Brown shot and killed Pajela to cover up the theft of between $25,000 and $35,000 from Pajela, Brown's former boss at Mira Vista Retirement Community.
Pajela's friend, Kay Wallis, testified she saw Pajela with Brown the day she was murdered. All three women were at Pajela's house the day she was killed. Wallis left around 7:30 a.m. with Brown and Pajela remaining in the house.
A Pleasant Grove police officer, Michael Smith, also testified that when he went to Arizona with another officer to interview the man with whom Brown had two kids, they took custody of a weapon the man took to Utah around the time of the murder.
Smith said after they questioned the man, he saw a conversation between him and Brown about what was going on. The man was very emotional, but Brown wasn't, the officer said.
Brown is charged in another case with theft by deception and pattern of unlawful activity, both second degree felonies. The trial for that case is scheduled to start Oct. 4.
This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page D1.